Why the Indian opposition can’t get its act together

The last time Indians voted in a national election, in 2019, the Bharatiya Janata Party, led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, won by running away. But even in this case more than 60% of voters voted for other parties.

That Modi has established such dominance in Parliament despite falling well short of popular majority support is a reflection of a dysfunctional and fractured political opposition.

The main opposition party, the Indian National Congress, ruled for decades after the country’s independence in 1947, led by the Nehru-Gandhi dynasty. The party’s position is now very reduced: in 2019 it obtained 52 seats in Parliament against the BJP’s 303. He is not expected to do much better in this year’s elections, which began Friday and will last six weeks.

This is why India’s political opposition is in such dire straits.

Congress, long positioned at India’s political center, has struggled to find direction and offer an ideological alternative to the Hindu nationalist BJP, which has held back the broader opposition’s fight against Modi.

Congress faced a leadership crisis, a series of rebellions and internal clashes. Even after two consecutive defeats against Modi, the party remained faithful to its dynastic leadership. He again proposed Rahul Gandhi, son, grandson and great-grandson of Indian prime ministers, as his face in taking on Modi.

Gandhi sought to increase his political clout by leading long marches across the country, including one of more than 2,000 miles. But when it appeared he had regained momentum, the BJP moved to control him.

After his first march, which attracted large crowds, the BJP accused him in a court case that led to his expulsion from Parliament. He was later restored to his post by India’s highest court.

His party’s defeats in a pair of key state elections in recent months have also knocked it off course, laying bare the extent of its deep-rooted problems.

In the months before the election, a number of opposition parties formed an alliance with the catchy name INDIA, short for the less mellifluous Inclusive Alliance for Indian National Development.

The creation of the coalition has caused unease among BJP leaders, suggesting the election could be a less one-sided affair.

But a series of bitter disagreements over seat-sharing among alliance members has disappointed many supporters. In some states, coalition parties have failed to resolve long-standing differences, putting protection of local territory ahead of national ambition to challenge Modi.

The chief minister of a state, founder and prominent face of the opposition bloc, even changed sides to join the BJP. Modi has been relentless in trying to divide the coalition, luring some members with incentives and bogging down others with investigations and prison. phrases.

Opposition groups say Modi is making government agencies do his political work for him. It seems they are right: opposition leaders have been the target of approx 90 percent of cases implicating politicians who have been persecuted by the country’s main financial crimes agency since Modi took power in 2014.

Weeks before this year’s elections, fiscal agencies led by Modi moved to freeze Congress’ bank accounts, leaving the party paralyzed. The Modi government also sent two prime ministers from opposition parties to prison.

While Congress has long been the target of Modi’s ire – he has even declared he wants a “Congress-free India” – a smaller group, the Aam Aadmi Party, or AAP, has faced particularly harsh repression.

Modi, analysts say, sees the AAP as a potential national challenger as the Congress fades. The party runs governments in the capital region of Delhi and the state of Punjab, and has made inroads in Modi’s home state of Gujarat.

The opposition coalition has persecuted Modi mainly on two issues: growing authoritarianism is turning India’s democracy into a one-party government, and political corruption is enriching a small elite.

Opposition leaders have also highlighted India’s growing inequality and huge job shortage, particularly for its massive youth population.

It is unclear whether these lines of attack have done much to dent Modi’s position. He has amassed great power and popularity through a potent mix of Hindu majoritarianism, robust welfare programs and personal charisma.

Modi also has enormous control over Indian news channels, with the media particularly bent to his wishes.

Mujib Mashal contributed to the reporting.